Reviews

Play Reviews

“an astonishing piece of drama … leaves .the audience impassioned, enlightened and educated” - Scene1+

“A mesmerising performance… this show will set you pondering and could prove a catalyst for many” – Highly Recommended, Fringe Review

“…. Very believable and engaging” – ****, British Theatre

“thought provoking”, The Reviews Hub

Shell Shock pilot performance 23rd September 2016

To many, the idea of a soldier returning from war to his home country presents a bright, cheerful prospect. To others, the term “shell shock” is something that they may have come across before as a type of post-war stress disorder. Tom Page puts all of this into context by producing a tragic play covering the period of melancholy experienced by Tommy Atkins, a former soldier in Kabul (Afghanistan). The atmosphere throughout the first few stages of the play is clearly upbeat and it’s obvious that Tommy looks positively in to the future after having returned to his homeland. This mind set soon deteriorates into darkness as nightmares haunt Tommy’s sleepless nights and sudden outbursts of rage scar his private life. Despite there being only 1 actor on stage, the audience is given the impression of multiple characters being present. “Kev” and “Shell” are the 2 most notable figures that trigger symptoms of Tommy’s condition and lead him into despair.

Problems go from bad to worse as he watches his poor mother drop into depression, his father remarry and Shell dissolve their relationship. By the end of the play, the audience is left with an image of Tommy balancing on a small table with a rope noose around his neck. From this dramatic suspense, a clear conclusion can be drawn that Tommy, alongside his everyday problems, was unable to cope with his deformed nature that he brought back from the war.

While raising awareness for traumatised soldiers appears to be the main initiative, “Shell Shock” also reflects Theresa May’s recent calls to protect troops from legal system abuse. Tommy’s story and this parallel can only portray the crucial importance that organisations such as “Combat Stress” play in our society. 
- Ed Laycock

Reviews from the Original Novel

The following are reviews based on the original 2011 novel Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins by Neil Blower (Watkin).

This is an extraordinary book, which feels utterly believable—I note the author states it is fiction in the after note, but it had me gripped. Despite my jet lag it had me turning the pages at one sitting until I finished it. The core message of the profound psychological, emotional and social impact of PTSD on the life of an ordinary soldier and his family is told vividly, realistically and compassionately. It is a book that society should be talking about to better understand the realities of contemporary conflict.
- Colonel TJ Hodgetts CBE L/RAMC

We must not forget that soldiers may suffer mental as well as physical injury. This book is a vivid and compassionate portrayal of an ex-soldier having to cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and it shows just how important is the work of charities such as Combat Stress.
- General Sir Mike Jackson

An important book because it addresses a very modern problem… a glimpse into that world of confusion, doubt and dislocation. Whilst it is a fiction, perhaps for the young man next to you on the train or on the football terrace, it is a reality.
- Colonel Tim Collins

Combat robs you mentally and physically, it drains you, you live so much on nervous excitement that when it’s all over you fall apart, everyday is a struggle to find something interesting to do. This book captures all these emotions superbly. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has been in combat and who, like me, has suffered the symptoms of PTSD.
- Soldier “I”, Pete Winner

The following reviews come from the Army Rumour Service forum. Three different reviewers provide their response to the book: a member of the serving military, an ex-member and a dependent. 

Captain Crusty (ARRSE) -
‘Shell Shock – the diary of Tommy Atkins’ (to give it its full title) is a soldier’s view of PTSD. Written by Neil Blower who served in the RTR for five years before being diagnosed with PTSD himself, the writing of this book was recommended to him as a cathartic vent.

The reviewing process was a pleasure as my copy came in Kindle format! Written in the style of a diary, it follows the trials and tribulations of a young man leaving the army for life on civvy street. As the diary progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that he is struggling to deal with life and his responses to everyday situations.

The book is written in the vernacular; Blower being an ex-squaddie clearly understands his subject well and writes well too. It is a short book – it took me about an hour to read but this doesn’t necessarily lessen its impact. In fact for its target audience (given the book’s presentational style and patois, I presume this is aimed at the youth market to help them understand what their military contempories are going through) this shortness is probably a selling point.

This is my only real gripe/issue with the book – it has been written with a very specific target audience in mind. So specific that it may alienate a wider audience, especially of an older generation (by which I mean anyone over the age of 30!); added to which the target audience is unfortunately exactly the age group who read relatively few books. Don’t get me wrong – the book is well written, portrays the lead character in a sensitive yet brutally honest manner and is as good an insight into someone’s downward journey into PTSD as I have come across. It’s just I have my doubts as to how many copies are going to get sold unfortunately.

Old Fat & Hairy (ARRSE) -
This is an easy read whilst being a difficult read. Ok, I know that is a contradiction, but keep following and hopefully it will make sense.

The book is a (fictional) diary of a squaddy, returned from Afghanistan and other places and begins with him leaving the army. Tommy (the character) is full of optimism, hope and trust, and why should he not be? he has faithfully served his country, fought for it and suffered for it. Sadly, his country doesn’t give much of a toss.

The book is written in diary form and reads like a long version of this site’s Naafi bar. It covers his arrival home, his relationship with his parents and his girlfriend. More importantly, it chronicles his downward spiral.

It doesn’t take long for Tommy to realise that life in civvy street is vastly different from army life, and that it is a cold and harsh world, with none of the safety nets that serving soldiers take for granted. That is not meant to be patronising or critical, just a statement of fact. Trust me, you will see as you read the diary.

This book is crude and coarse, but also one of the most touching tales I have read in a very long time. There are passages that could – bugger it – did bring a lump to my throat and dust motes in the eyes.

It’s a book that is very relevant for any serving soldier. Or sailor. Possibly even for the airmen too. It’s a book that hits hard and deep, yet it is laced with humour and wit. Reading this book I found elements of my inner self that I could identify with, and I know that the younger and more current crop of squaddies will recognise a lot of themselves in it.

I must stress that this book deals with the effects of PTSD, it even gives a handy guide to recognising the symptoms, and what is more important, this book is dedicated to promoting the most essential work of ‘Combat Stress’.

I urge everyone to buy and read this book, it is valuable not only to the serving and recently served squaddy but of even greater value and importance to their families and loved ones.

Blitza (ARRSE) -
What a book for a first novel. I reviewed this book as the daughter of an army family; a girlfriend of those who saw troubles in Northern Ireland and an ex-wife of someone who suffered from mild PTSD and combat stress as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a book about PTSD, or as Neil Blower has so aptly named it ‘Shell Shock’ which of course is what it was known as in the First and Second World Wars, and a name which our older generations understand (the term PTSD is meaningless to many of them). But it is not just a novel about PTSD; it is about the good and the bad of the army; the good and bad sides of society; it’s about perception, values, family, relationships; in fact it is a novel about life as the book charts Tommy’s journey into civvie street after leaving the army.

Written as a diary, at breakneck speed and relatively short (168 pages in all) Shell Shock packs some punch. If you are expecting some beautifully written prose this is the wrong book for you, as is explained in the prologue, for in reality squaddies swear a lot! And there is a lot of effing and blinding as we follow Tommy’s mood swings from deep despair to high delight and back down again. His observations on life are succinct and to the point – if you want political correctness this is not a book for you either. Tommy writes it as it is. His thoughts, feelings, incomprehension at what is going on and the reactions of those around him are all catalogued. The occasional helping hand; the desperation and despair when faced with a senseless death and his resultant feelings of helplessness; the flashbacks, anger, nightmares, sleeplessness; symptoms which are all so so familiar to me.

The last few entries (including the postscript) had me in helpless tears with the largest lump possible in my throat. To me these entries epitomised the best and the worst of the world we live in.

In a nutshell this is a visceral read; it brought up memories of trying to deal with unreasonable anger, despair, mood swings with a partner who would not face up to what they were going through – after all ‘one’ is a tough fighting man and PTSD is for wusses. Except it isn’t. I hope lots of people read this book. It ought to be compulsory reading for anyone who studies the history of modern war; certainly it is short enough, forthright enough and plain enough for anyone to understand.

As a footnote and on a purely personal note: This book seems particularly pertinent at the moment as I hear events unfold of rioting in London and across our country. For what do our armed services fight and go through unimaginable personal hells; for the right in our democracy to rob, riot and steal? It seems too high a price to pay.